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Turkey: Make or break time for Erdogan

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Default profile picture Tolga Gucel


With the political integrity of Europe’s eastern front hanging by a thread, it is easy to forget the unrest that shook Turkey last year. As the Crimea monopolises the media, people would be forgiven for thinking that all was well in Turkey once more. A closer inspection reveals cracks in the façade that has been so carefully constructed by Erdogan and his seemingly omnipotent band of brothers

As the count­down be­gins to the gen­eral elec­tions in June 2015, the pressure is mounting on the rul­ing Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party and it’s leader as claims of cor­rup­tion and an in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian stance threaten its sta­bil­ity. Prime Min­is­ter Recep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s grip over his coun­try and his peo­ple has been tight­en­ing grad­u­ally dur­ing his ten years in power but only in the last few years have his cit­i­zens begun to stand up against what they per­ceive to be an at­tack on the Turk­ish re­pub­lic, and worst still, an at­tack on the fa­ther of mod­ern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Re­stric­tions on free­dom of speech, the in­de­pen­dent press and the gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to ac­knowl­edge the rights of the Turk­ish LGBT com­mu­nity have an­gered the peo­ple and in par­tic­u­lar the youth, who feel that the coun­try is re­gress­ing in­stead of em­brac­ing the lifestyles and rights of a mod­ern Eu­ro­pean so­ci­ety.

Turn­ing off the tap

Along with this comes the re­li­gious in­flu­ence that Er­do­gan has im­posed. Al­though Turkey has a large Is­lamic ma­jor­ity, since the cre­ation of the re­pub­lic in 1923 Turkey is a sec­u­lar state with a large multi cul­tural pop­u­la­tion. This sec­u­lar­ism, how­ever, has been threat­ened by Er­do­gan’s in­creas­ingly Is­lamic in­flu­ence with moves to tighten the coun­try’s al­co­hol laws. A 2011 law (since re­tracted) raised the drink­ing age from 18 to 24. These pub­lic con­cerns cul­mi­nated in the civil un­rest that ex­ploded last May, with it’s epi­cen­ter being Tak­sim Square and the sur­round­ing Gezi Park in Is­tan­bul. In front of the world’s media, Er­do­gan as­serted his au­thor­ity with a bru­tal po­lice back­lash against pro­tes­tors. Ul­ti­mately the move­ment was quashed.

So, how has Er­do­gan and his Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party main­tained power for so long? The truth is for the ma­jor­ity of his tenure in power, Er­do­gan has ac­tu­ally in­creased his sup­port amongst the Turk­ish peo­ple. Dur­ing the Er­do­gan decade, Turkey has un­der­gone a great deal of change and pro­gres­sion on the global scene and has firmly es­tab­lished it­self as a key player in both Eu­rope and Asia. With GDP grow­ing by 64% be­tween 2002 and 2012, Turkey be­came a global eco­nomic pow­er­house and an im­por­tant geopo­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence.

In my home city of Is­tan­bul the changes are clear to see. A new brand new rail­way tun­nel built under the Bospho­rus Strait links the great con­ti­nents of Asia and Eu­rope. Beau­ti­fully main­tained gar­dens grace the length of the high­ways and im­pos­ing gov­ern­ment build­ings have sprung up across the city.  An abundance of high end sports cars, 4x4‘s and speedy lit­tle hatch­backs paint an op­ti­mistic pic­ture of Turkey’s econ­omy today.

But where has all this money come from?

Er­do­gan sup­port­ers laud clever lead­er­ship and suc­cess­ful eco­nomic poli­cies. Po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity led to the kind of eco­nomic sta­bil­ity rarely seen under pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments, which were typ­i­cally short term coali­tions. Thanks to this sta­bil­ity, for­eign in­vest­ment ex­ploded, to­tal­ing $123.7bn from 2002-2012.

On the other hand, Er­do­gan cyn­ics blame cor­rup­tion. Re­cent de­vel­op­ments sug­gest that Er­do­gan and his gov­ern­ment are deeply in­volved in cor­rup­tion. Many of the coun­try’s rich­est and most in­flu­en­tial busi­nesses are im­pli­cated. A se­cret phone record­ing of a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the Prime Min­is­ter and his son was re­leased on na­tional tele­vi­sion. They are al­legedly dis­cussing the need to move a large amount of money out of their house due to a dan­ger of it being un­cov­ered. Of course the Prime Min­is­ter re­futes the al­le­ga­tions and claims the record­ing is fake. An­other scan­dalous record­ing was re­leased of a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Er­do­gan and the head of a lead­ing Turk­ish news net­work. The Prime Min­is­ter de­mands the net­work cuts its cov­er­age of an op­po­si­tion leader, and the net­work chief sub­mis­sively agrees.

Whether these record­ings are true or not re­mains to be seen and in any case, whilst Er­do­gan is in power it seems un­likely that such ev­i­dence can be proven against him as he seems to have the abil­ity to ma­nip­u­late any news or event to suit him­self and his party. This in­creas­ingly iron fist ap­proach is only high­lighted by Er­do­gan’s cal­cu­lated moves to re­place lead­ing mil­i­tary fig­ures with pro-Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party lead­ers to con­sol­i­date his power in a coun­try renowned for it’s mil­i­tary coups. Er­do­gan’s re­cent threat to ban Face­book and Youtube was for­tu­nately shot down by Pres­i­dent Ab­dul­lah Gul.

Ground Zero: Turkey - The Pro­test­ers of Gezi Park

No al­ter­na­tives

The most re­cent poll fig­ures sug­gest that Prime Min­is­ter Er­do­gan and his AKP party still main­tain a healthy 40% of the vote. De­spite in­creas­ing dis­con­tent with the gov­ern­ment, peo­ple are faced with the dilemma of hav­ing no at­trac­tive al­ter­na­tive.  Er­do­gan’s near­est ri­vals, the Re­pub­li­can Peo­ple's Party (CHP) still have a lot of work to do to con­vince the Turk­ish peo­ple.

2014 promises to be a mon­u­men­tal year for Turkey. Local elec­tions are only weeks away, and ob­servers pre­dict that the win­ner of these will go on to win the next gen­eral elec­tion. How­ever, in the wake of re­cent events, it re­mains to be seen if Turkey still trusts Prime Min­is­ter Er­do­gan.